The ‘Ocean’s 8’ star and the burgeoning indie wonder Lulu Wang are an actor-director duo worth watching.
Awkwafina is part of a revolution. She is spearheading something great for Asian-American comedians. The rapper, television personality, and actress first broke out into mainstream consciousness with her controversial music video for her song “My Vag.” Just imagine anyone not responding to anything with a confrontational title like that.
It wasn’t just the outrageous crassness that got people talking either. The combination of Awkwafina’s intentionally absurd stage name with her distinctively husky voice and a truculent, deadpan stare created a memorable imprint of who the personality — real name Nora Lum — could be in the long run. And according to Awkwafina herself:
“Awkwafina is someone that you definitely won’t expect her to be upon seeing what she looks like. But then when she opens her mouth you’re like, ‘oooh… yikes!’ There’s definitely a ‘yikes’ component to any description. So yeah, it’s just like, ‘oh, it’s just an Asian girl,’ and then she starts talking and then you’re like, ‘oh, it’s just Big Ang trapped in an Asian girl’s body.’
“My Vag” eventually led to Awkwafina’s big screen break, which also happened to be her very first acting job. She played a supporting character in the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg-produced comedy Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. She has come even further since, starring in the coming-of-age drama Dude as well as landing memorable parts in two highly anticipated 2018 releases: the sequel/spinoff to Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s series, Ocean’s 8, and Jon M. Chu’s upcoming adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Obviously, 2018 has been Awkwafina’s best year, although don’t let her hear you say that. “I hope that it’s not the biggest year, you know?” she tells Newsweek. “I always want to thrive for that bigger year.” That shouldn’t be a problem for her when her star only keeps on shining, and news of her latest collaboration is a particular treat. Per Variety, Awkwafina has been cast alongside Tzi Ma (The Man in the High Castle) and Diana Lin (The Family Law) in Lulu Wang’s next movie, an untitled family comedy.
The movie will center on a Chinese family that ultimately has to deal with loss when they find out that the grandmother of the clan only has a short time left to live. The rest of the household decides to hide this from her, scheduling a large family get-together in the form of a wedding for a final hurrah. However, the secret may not be safe with one of her granddaughters, who has always felt untethered in her home country and feels conflicted about keeping her grandmother in the dark.
As yet, there is no confirmed word on who Awkwafina will be playing in the movie, although we can probably expect her brashness to shine as the outcast who has trouble staying mum. Wang penned the script herself and will direct the film, which will reportedly shoot in both the United States and China.
The mashup of the outspoken and unabashed Awkwafina persona and the subdued directorial style that Wang has adopted so far is definitely a fascinating one to watch out for. Wang broke out into the film industry with a decidedly lovely first feature called Posthumous, an ode to artists who intend to speak their truths.
Set in the gorgeous city of Berlin, Posthumous centers on an unemployed American feature writer named McKenzie (Brit Marling) and a struggling British artist called Liam (Jack Huston). Their paths cross after false reports of Liam’s death leaves him an icon in the art world, after which he decides to re-enter society posing as his own brother to protect the ruse. Meanwhile, McKenzie believes that Liam’s “posthumous” success will serve as her own big break in journalism. Her subsequent encounters with the artist undercover prove life-changing for both of them. McKenzie and Liam must figure out what compromises they can afford to make — of themselves and their relationships — in order to create the art that they desire and deserve.
Posthumous engages in multiple conversations about art at once, although it thankfully never becomes too convoluted for its own good. Wang weaves an interconnected story that is both sweet and honest. She has a way with actors and adeptly directs often wordy conversations between Marling and Huston’s characters in a manner that capitalizes on their evident chemistry. Furthermore, Stefan Ciupek’s excellent cinematography captures Berlin lovingly, creating the most personable backdrop that looks very much like art itself.
Wang’s untitled family comedy seems to be a stark narrative shift away from her debut feature, focusing on different relationship dynamics and actually going global. However, the fact that death remains a part of the story is significant as it could obviously break up any levity we might expect, especially in an Awkwafina collaboration.
And even if Awkwafina is expected to go a little more serious in this movie, that isn’t really something to be concerned about. Look no further than to Dude, which meshes the comedian’s shocking personality with moments of gravitas. In the film, Awkwafina plays one quarter of a group of life-long friends who have to come to terms with loss and separation in the last weeks of high school. The storyline gets heavy at times, but director Olivia Milch still lets Awkwafina show off her inimitable rapping skills and her deftness at comedic timing. Awkwafina manages to find enough balance to make the character believable in Dude, and she could totally nail the main internal conflict in Wang’s film.
This team-up definitely ensures that we won’t forget the names Awkwafina or Lulu Wang anytime soon. Much like their contemporary Ali Wong, they are adamant to tell stories that celebrate their own individuality, and building careers that will not only last but have a huge impact on Asian-American representation in the years to come.